The Vanguard has obtained, through an SB 1421 request, the police records from the 2012 Glacier Point incident that culminated in the arrest and Tasering of two UC Davis students. The records include an approximately 20-minute video from the dash cam (officers did not wear body cameras in 2012), and extensive interviews with the officers involved and witnesses, as well as the official report from then Chief Landy Black.
In late August 2012, the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against the UC Davis students which had included a felony resist arrest (PC 69) against the male and misdemeanor charges with interfering with the officers.
On January 18, 2013, Office Lee Benson was fired from the department based on his handling of this incident. In a letter from Chief Landy Black dated February 5, 2013, he writes, “Based on the evidence, it became clear the conduct of the first arriving officer with whom you interacted did not meet the highest standards of conduct and service we expect from our members.”
However, Chief Black did not sustain the charges for use of force or biased policing (both individuals were African American).
Background of the Incident
In May 2012, two UC Davis students were involved in an incident that started as a disturbing the peace incident and ended up with one of the students being Tasered by the responding officer.
Officer Benson responded to a 911 call in which the caller reported observing a male and a female in an argument and then a physical confrontation.
When Officer Benson attempted to detain the male subject, according to a press release at the time, he “refused to follow the Officer’s commands and became argumentative. When the officers attempted to physically detain him, (the male) resisted the officer by pushing them.”
The press release continues, “Officers wrestled with (him) and were able to restrain him, handcuff him, and place him in the back seat of a patrol car.”
During this time, the Davis police officers said they were struggling to get (the male) under control. In the meantime, (the female subject) also interfered with the police’s efforts.
“Despite numerous requests for her to keep her distance and not interfere, (the female subject) interfered by physically placing herself in close proximity to the struggle,” the police report.
Her efforts to intervene were so substantial, the police described, that, “At one point, (she) was so close she became pinned in between the struggling officers, (the male), and a police car.”
The female in an interview with the Vanguard in August 2012 gave a different account of the incident.
New Records Released
While Chief Landy Black did not sustain the allegation of excessive force, the new documents make it clear that he did not believe that Officer Benson handled the situation appropriately.
“To begin with, and actually setting in motion a cascading series of questionable actions and interactions, Officer Benson made a poor decision-a judgment error that contributed to and compounded subsequent decisions-making errors; each contributing to and compounding subsequent decision-making errors, until a rather routine disturbance call became rife with bad outcomes stemming from bad decisions and poor judgment,” Chief Black writes.
He adds, “Officer Benson’s precipitating bad decision was improperly assessing the routine disturbance call to which he had been dispatched as a higher priority, and assuming it required a more expeditious police response, than a reasonable…”
This is a critical error, because when he mis-prioritized the call, he initiated a code-3 driving response without meeting “any of the four possible criteria required…” in the DPD Manual.
Writes Chief Black: “Mis-assessing the priority he would assign to the call response and electing a code-3 response increased the “adrenaline charge” beginning to affect and infect Officer Benson. The self-induced, higher intensity of the call acted to limit the response alternatives Officer Benson would be able to be cognitive of upon his arrival.
The video shows after a few minutes’ ride at high speed, Officer Benson gets out of the car and immediately orders the male, “You come here.” When the female responds, “He didn’t do anything.” The officer states, “I don’t care. I didn’t ask you that. Come here.”
You can here the officer order the male to the front of the car, some sort of scuffle and the female saying, “Don’t fight, don’t fight.”
The woman states, “Officer he’s not aggressive at all.” The officer states, “You need to back off,” and the woman repeatedly responds, “He’s not aggressive.”
The officer threatens to Tase her: “I’m going to Tase you.”
“There’s no reason to Tase me,” she said calmly. “He’s not aggressive.”
Writes Chief Black, “Officer Benson begins his interactions with the people he encountered at the wrong end of the escalation/de-escalation continuum. Without provocation, the first words out of Officer Benson’s mouth are rude and uncivil; issuing orders in a manner and tone that could reasonably be expected to cause most recipients to recoil and act indignant. And Officer Benson ultimately reaped the crop he’d sown.”
Chief Black continued: “Officer Benson likely had the authority to detain any people he reasonably believed were the subjects of the call he was investigating.”
While the male subject could not lawfully refuse Officer Benson’s orders, Chief Black noted that “it is questionable whether (the male’s) verbal and non-violent resistance to Officer Benson’s grasp constituted the crime of Obstructing, or any other crime that would have been a lawful basis for the subsequent actions taken by Officer Benson-the behind the neck grasp, a ‘clench’ maneuver as Officer Benson referred to it, and subsequent actions concluding with handcuffing-that unquestionably qualify as ‘constructive arrest.’”
Chief Black continues with the criticism: “Once the initial phase of the contact and detention/arrest of (the male) and subsequently (the female half of the reported disturbance), was ·completed, with(the male) placed in handcuffs and seated in the back of a patrol car, Officer Benson continued to compound his errors and the overall mishandling of the call.”
Chief Black writes: “Threats of arrest and continuing to use harsh, uncivil, unprofessional language -telling (him) to “Shut up!” for instance-further did nothing to deescalate tensions-his, other officers, suspects, or members of the public.”
Still this did not constitute unlawful uses of force, according to Chief Black at the time and in a follow up conversation with current Chief Darren Pytel.
Chief Black, for instance, found that what he called an “unorthodox” hold – “the clench” – was “not excessive.”
However, he pointed out, “What makes any of the force used during this first stage of the physical encounter between (the male) and Officer Benson questionable is the fact that there could be some legitimate debate about the appropriateness of even the minimal force applied by Officer Benson when he grabbed (his) wrist/arm to direct him toward the controlled environment next to a patrol car.”
Chief Black concludes: “Ultimately, it is clear that Officer Benson’s conduct and language exacerbated what should have been a fairly routine situation-the type that officers are expected to respond to with calm and self-control, and not escalate–and rather than give it much of a chance of being brought to a more peaceful conclusion, turned the event into an embarrassment to professional peace officers and the Davis Police Department.”
He sustained the complaint for General Conduct, Rude Conduct, and Language. But Chief Black does not sustain the complaint for either use of force or bias.
He concludes: “While all the force used was unfortunate and could have likely been avoided, when held up to the enabling and/or prohibitive constraints of DPD policy, the force used was properly applied.”
Likewise the finding of biased policing was not sustained. He writes: “No such evidence exists; whether through the audio/video records, the statements of the parties (complainants or officers), statements of witnesses, or documents and records to support or completely dispel the allegation with regard to Officer Benson’s demeanor and actions.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting